Leading Edge: What SA should learn from England

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape town

MARCH 9 was Mickey Spillane’s birthday and the day The Notorious B.I.G. died. It was also when England started re-inventing themselves as a one-day team.

The process started in the inauspicious but necessary circumstances of defeat. And not just any defeat: to Bangladesh, a disaster that condemned England to a first-round exit from the 2015 World Cup.

“We thought 275 was chaseable. We’ll have a look at the data.”

That was among Peter Moores’ last pronouncements as England’s coach. He was sacked, along with Paul Downtown, the managing director of England’s teams. Apparently, that is a proper job.

But England needed a change of heart and mind along with their changes in personnel. Specifically, they needed to stop playing the shorter formats as if they could have more fun enduring root canal treatment.

This they have achieved. Yes, they went down to SA by the odd game in five in the one-day series on the current tour. But how badly would they have lost had they arrived with the mindset they took to the World Cup?

For the first time since Ian Botham played the most un-English cricket imaginable, England have – and are picking – players who look like they might just be having fun out there: Ben Stokes, Adil Rashid, Joss Buttler.

“This group of players, we’ve been challenging ourselves and pushing ourselves for a number of months,” Buttler said after scoring a century in the first ODI in Bloemfontein.

“At times we’ll get it wrong and probably be all out for 280 in 40 overs. But this is another great step forward for everyone to start this way in a series overseas against a very good team.”

That SA claimed the series by winning three games on the bounce was, of course, partly thanks to the competitive cricket played by England.

There is an important lesson for SA in all this.

Since the World Cup, they have played too much root canal cricket to often. Nevermind that they have won one-day and T20 series since the World Cup, it is their test defeats in India and at home against England that tell us what we need to know: in the longest format there is no hiding the hurt.

That is not to question the reasons for SA’s funk. It’s one thing being beaten by a better team on the day, which New Zealand were in that World Cup semi-final, quite another to be denied the right to put your best team on the field.

That has hurt SA and it will for a long time. Unless they refuse to let it. Whether they need personnel changes to deal with the scars is another conversation. For now, they need to consult their inner little boys and play cricket for the fun of it again.

Admittedly, that is easy to say from a desk in a pressbox; less so when the heartstrings of millions are tugged by your every move on the field.

But it has to happen. Today is February 21, the day Nina Simone was born and Malcolm X was assassinated. Might it also be when SA begin healing the hurt?

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